Valkyria Chronicles is a good game, as has already been mentioned a few times ’round these parts. Yet, one aspect of the doesn’t seem to be netting much attention around the Internet: its difficulty. Or rather, it’s lack of difficulty.
To put it bluntly, Valkyria may be good, but it isn’t very difficult. Sure, some strategy is involved, and you need to know when and how to use your soldiers or they’ll be killed off, but otherwise a Game Over is a rare occurrence. Considering that so many strategy RPGs — I’m looking at you, Tactics Ogre — have a reputation for being horribly difficult, this is not a bad thing at all! The impressive thing about it, though, is that while Valkyria mirrors the recent development trend of making a game accessible so that more players can see all the content, it does so in a way that doesn’t rob the player of all challenge (and thus, the feeling of accomplishment videogames do so well when that challenge is overcome).
[[image: ar_052209_valkyria_01.jpg:Crackdown:Insert sappy message about the real difficulty being understanding your fellow human being here.:0]]
Valkyria largely sidesteps the lack-of-accomplishment issue through its rankings. At first I wasn’t a fan of this system, being a gamer who tends to play defensively and set elaborate traps for my opponents; Valkyria rewards taking huge risks to win in a short number of rounds. I suppose that’s less of a ranking system than it is a strange, formless difficulty option, though. If you want a challenge, try to finish a map quickly; the risks are higher, but you’re rewarded with more experience (which better suits you for taking more risks in the future). Not very good at SRPGs, or want to play defensively? You can take the conservative tact, as long as you can live with seeing something other below an A ranking at the end of each chapter.
Furthermore, the skirmishes — non plot-related battles that can be played over and over for additional experience — can help bridge the gap between D and A rankings, and since they take place on maps you’ve already beaten, it’s essentially the game’s way of nudging the player to try replaying battles more efficiently. So, while some of the moves the bone-headed AI makes (like letting a tank roll right by a scout about to capture a base) occasionally leave me feeling like I cheesed a victory I shouldn’t have been able to claim, overall the rankings are a thoughtful method of letting the player choose his own difficulty without ruining the fun for anyone. If the “the game watches you constantly and adjusts your experience” thing in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories sounds like a pie-in-the-sky dream, well, maybe not. Thanks to Valkyria, we know that it really can be done. (A lesser man would say “even Sega can do it,” but I’m better than that.)